Fresh off a James Beard Award win, chef Vince Nguyen is saying goodbye to the fine dining game. On Wednesday, November 1, Nguyen announced that his minimalist Vietnamese restaurant, Berlu, will serve its final tasting menus on December 31. The restaurant will transition into Nguyen’s currently dormant pop-up, Berlu Bakery, allowing him to take a step back from day-to-day operations.
Nguyen will welcome his first child in January and wants to focus on parenthood as opposed to working the line in a demanding restaurant environment. “Although our current team has been doing an amazing job, our small restaurant is still reliant on my daily presence,” Nguyen writes in an Instagram post. “The bakery has been a savior on so many levels. It offered us a lifeline at the height of the pandemic, allowing us to keep our doors open. It has given me a connection to my Vietnamese heritage and a newfound pride of my ancestry. Now, it will allow me [to] be with my growing family, while also supporting our staff.”
On Saturdays and Sundays beginning January 20, diners will be able to get their fix of gluten- and dairy-free treats like chè, cassava cake, coconut egg custard tarts, and bright green slabs of pandan flavored bánh bò nướng, also known as honeycomb cake. Berlu’s bánh bò nướng has become a cult favorite, spawning themed merch and inspiring cheeky TikToks from Nguyen.
Nguyen opened Berlu in 2019, following stints at world-renowned restaurant Noma and Portland’s Castagna. The restaurant was a brick-and-mortar version of his own pop-up, Jolie Laide — “ugly pretty” in French — which served bold combinations of flavors in unique contexts. When Berlu first opened, dishes like squid tentacles with pork, strawberries, and fava beans would precede almond milk dumplings with roasted garlic and fermented honey, often blurring the line between savory and sweet, or dramatically altering the texture of specific foods.
During the pandemic, Nguyen explored more a la carte models of dining, including takeout soup bowls and pastries, as well as the Vietnamese flavors and dishes of his heritage. When the tasting menu restaurant reopened, the chef began to incorporate those same flavors through his minimalist fine dining lens. His contemporary approach to Vietnamese cuisine translated into high-concept dishes like smoked sablefish served with a peppery rice sauce in a nod to cháo, or Vietnamese rice porridge, and coffee sorbet topped with egg yolk foam and grated cured egg yolk inspired by cà phê trứng. The new model was a hit, and Nguyen won Best Chef: Northwest and Pacific at the 2023 James Beard Awards for his work at Berlu.
It’s unclear if Berlu will transition back into a tasting menu restaurant down the road; Eater Portland has reached out for comment.
Berlu’s final tasting menu reservations in December, including an “extended” New Year’s menu, will be released on Tock today at noon.